Avalanche Analytic Takeaways – Kadri, Kuemper & More

The first week of the NHL season is in the books, and the Colorado Avalanche split a pair of games to start what they hope is an eventual march to the Stanley Cup. Everyone from fans to media members offers their take on the results, but what do the numbers say? In what is to be a recurring series through the end of the regular season, analytical trends which emerge from each week’s slate of games will be explored with an eye on next week’s schedule. To kick things off, the first edition looks at Nazem Kadri’s triumphant return to center-ice duties, Colorado’s continued emphasis on dominating chance quality, and Darcy Kuemper’s early struggles in net. Let’s dive in.

Kadri Bounces Back

To say Kadri is having a tumultuous 2021 is an understatement. The 13-year-veteran followed up a disappointing 2020-21 regular season (his lowest points-per-game pace since 2014-15) with another untimely playoff suspension, serving eight games for blind-siding St. Louis Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. While the Avalanche had little trouble dispatching the Blues in their first-round series, Kadri’s absence was significant in their inability to progress past the Vegas Golden Knights. In his stead, the team was forced to promote rookies and elevate players to higher spots in the lineup than they were accustomed to occupying. To make a long story short, the hot-headed center carries some unsettled debts heading into the season. Luckily, he looks ready to pay up make amends.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

With regular first-line center Nathan MacKinnon sidelined through COVID-19 protocol, Kadri seamlessly integrated himself into the primary scoring unit beside Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Apart from being tied for second in five-on-five scoring (three points), Kadri amassed the fourth-most scoring chances (10) among all skaters through two games. The makeshift first line is prolific, generating the highest rate of expected goals per-60 minutes (xGF/60) and second-most goals per-60 (G/60) among forward lines with at least 10 minutes played at five-on-five. The microscopic sample size offered by the early season results could be nothing more than the product of variance, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

For as long as MacKinnon is missing from the lineup, Colorado needs its supporting cast to step up in his absence. Kadri’s early contributions suggest that the Avalanche once again possesses an unmatched group of attacking options beyond their reliable triumvirate of forward stars. If – and it’s a big if – Kadri reins in his temper, this could be the year where the franchise makes good on its Stanley Cup potential.

Avalanche Renew Focus on Chance Quality

The Avalanche have renewed their emphasis on dominating the run of play this season, driving absurd shot- and chance-differential numbers at five-on-five. The 2020-21 Presidents’ Trophy winners were a buzzsaw at even-strength last year, ranking first across every meaningful possession and chance-quality metric, including their share of shot attempts (CF%), chance quality (xGF%), scoring chances (SCF%), and high-danger attempts from around the slot (HDCF%).

Through two games, Colorado once again ranks first in the last two categories (and second in xGF%), even without Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Devon Toews for one or both of those matchups. In particular, the Avalanche bulldozed the Blues in their most recent game, out-attempting them 31-9 at five-on-five in the second period despite conceding twice to go down 3-1 heading into the third. Against Chicago, the team controlled over 70% of the expected goals share at five-on-five, subjecting the Blackhawks to immense torment for the entirety of the contest on the way to a convincing 5-2 victory.

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Star winger Rantanen encapsulated Colorado’s desire to create high-leverage scoring chances from the most threatening of positions. In just under 18 minutes at five-on-five, Rantanen generated eight scoring chances, equalling the Blues’ top four skaters in that department. With another four high-danger shots, the Finnish forward nearly dragged the short-handed Avalanche to a win on his own, but St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington stood tall in an eventual 5-3 triumph.

A pair of early-season games is the smallest of small sample sizes so failing to convert an avalanche of chances into actual goals isn’t yet a cause for concern. In any case, Colorado knows that they can kick it into overdrive and overpower their opponents at will. Look for the team to return to their familiar rampaging selves once their key contributors re-enter the lineup.

Kuemper’s Early Struggles in Net

With 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist Philip Grubauer departing for the Seattle Kraken, Darcy Kuemper faces heightened expectations as his replacement, taking over the responsibility of backstopping a prominent Stanley Cup contender. In his first two starts, he has allowed more goals than would be expected, given the quality of chances thrown his way. For a new addition to the roster, that’s a less than ideal way to endear oneself to an organization and its fans.

As you can likely guess by now, it is extremely early in the season to be drawing any meaningful conclusions about any on-ice results, let alone any related to such a historically volatile position. Some goalies have only made a single start up to this point, meaning any trends pinpointed in the early entries in this weekly series could (and almost certainly will) end up being nothing but noise. In his defense, Kuemper’s resume demonstrates reliable goaltending performances in recent seasons, ranking sixth (.922) in all-situations save percentage (SV%) among goalies with at least 1000 minutes played since 2018-19.

Goaltending variance usually sorts itself out within a season or two, meaning the best version of Kuemper likely makes an appearance for the Avalanche at some point in 2021-22. When in doubt, place more value on long-term evidence rather than overreacting to small sample sizes. With that in mind, his success (or lack thereof) is an underlying storyline that dictates how far Colorado can go in the playoffs and one to revisit in future articles. No pressure, Darcy.

Avalanche Week 2 Preview

The Avalanche embark on a three-game road trip on the east coast which sees them battle a trio of Eastern Conference powers in the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers. COVID-19 scares, and the subsequent cap constraints have limited the Avalanche to start the year, but the second week of the season offers another chance to get off on the right foot. Tune in next Monday for another serving of bite-sized analytical appetizers.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and MoneyPuck.

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